What You Can Actually Do to Help Right Now

Places to donate, actions to take, and ways to support your community while social distancing

Photo: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

AsAs the coronavirus first began to make its way through the United States, it brought out the worst in a lot of people: The profiteers buying up hand sanitizer to resell at obscene prices. The panic shoppers hoarding toilet paper. The racists targeting Asians and Asian Americans. The spring breakers insisting on their right to party on, virus be damned.

But right now, just about a week after the World Health Organization declared the highly contagious virus a global pandemic and President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, there’s also a lot of good to be found: People rejecting the “everyone for themselves” mentality that fear so often brings and, instead, looking for ways to help.

“The world we knew has radically changed in ways that are difficult to process,” says Sean Duffy, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, Camden. “People were justifiably fearful at first and acted in a way that appeared selfish. But I think once people understood the situation, [that] was replaced by collective endeavor.”

There are lots of ways to help your fellow humans right now, many of which don’t even require you to leave the house. What’s more, Duffy says, taking action to benefit someone else might help ease your own anxieties. “This is a situation that is out of anyone’s control,” he says. “So, people like to feel like they are doing something, anything, to mitigate it.”

Things to do if you can afford it

This may seem obvious, but there are a whole lot of people and businesses facing a deeply uncertain financial future. If you’re continuing to work from home and have money to spare, consider using some of your paycheck to help people who are out of work or to support industries unable to carry on business as usual.

Donate money

Perhaps the simplest way to help financially is to make a donation. A few good options:

  • Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization that makes sure doctors have the medical equipment they need.
  • The GoFundMe general relief fund distributes money to organizations and people affected by the pandemic. You can also donate to one of any number of more specific Covid-19-related GoFundMe campaigns.
  • You could also direct your donation to No Kid Hungry or Meals on Wheels, both of which are continuing to provide food to some of the most vulnerable populations.

If you want to keep your donation close to home, just call your local food bank and let them know you’d like to make a financial contribution, or check your local Listservs and social media groups to discover other organizations in need.

Don’t get refunds

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that everything’s canceled. But if you’ve bought tickets to a play, paid for a conference or class, or booked some kind of experience that’s no longer happening, consider not asking for your money back. If it’s something that can be rescheduled once things calm down, great — you’ve just paid in advance. If not, consider it a donation; your money may help keep an organization afloat a little longer.

Order takeout — and tip

Several states have ordered bars and restaurants to close their dining rooms, but many are still doing takeout or delivery. Support local restaurants by buying a meal to eat at home. Pay online or over the phone to avoid close contact. Ask your delivery person if they take tips on Venmo for the same reasons. (And no matter the answer, tip generously!) Some restaurants are also giving customers the chance to donate a meal to a hospital worker, so consider showing your appreciation to the people on the front lines of the pandemic by keeping them well fed.

Buy gift cards

Every small business in your town — coffee shops, salons, boutiques, pet daycares, escape rooms — will be taking a huge hit this month as attendance plummets. A gift card will give a business a much-needed influx of cash now, and it’ll give you something to look forward to when the pandemic is under control.

Free ways to help while social distancing

What we know about Covid-19 is rapidly changing from day to day, and we’re only just learning that younger adults are being hospitalized with the virus more frequently than previously believed. So it bears repeating that you should be taking precautions anytime you go out: Don’t touch surfaces you don’t need to, definitely don’t touch your face, and use hand sanitizer liberally while outside your house. But if you’re healthy and your risk of contracting the virus or suffering severe complications is low, you can make the most of your good fortune by helping more vulnerable people

Take care of pets

Reach out to elderly or immunocompromised neighbors who have dogs, cats, or other pets. Let them know that if something comes up, you’d be happy to take their companion to the veterinarian or to pick up food, litter, or other supplies. Walking someone else’s dog is also a great excuse to spend some socially distant time outside.

Grocery shop or deliver meals

Save those same neighbors a trip to a crowded store by offering to pick up their groceries. To be on the safe side, make sure to wash your hands before touching the food they’ll be eating, and just leave the bags outside their door.

Babysit for medical professionals, first responders, and others

Even with most businesses shut down, a lot of people still have to go to work: doctors and other medical professionals, police and fire personnel, and grocery and drugstore staff. With schools closed, many of those people will be struggling to find childcare. If you’re young and healthy, offer to babysit or provide lessons or other distance-learning help for older children via video chat

Donate blood

Thanks to canceled blood drives, the Red Cross is facing a severe blood shortage and needs to collect 13,000 donations per day to meet patient needs. If you’re healthy, feeling well, and eligible to give blood (in most states, that means at least 17 years old and 110 pounds), contact the Red Cross to schedule a donation. “We understand that people have concerns right now about all aspects of public health,” a Red Cross spokesperson says, “but want to stress that donating blood is a safe process and people should not hesitate to give.”

Free ways to help if you’re fully quarantined

A few days ago, two friends in New York, Yamini Bhandari and Prawallika Gangidi, noticed they were seeing opportunities and resources popping up in group chats and on social media and set out to compile and organize them. They pulled together a Google Sheet to track ways people can contribute, organizations looking for help, and big ideas that need people on board. It’s set up so anyone can edit and add information.

“We hope it can be a place where people with ideas can collaborate with each other and find fellow-minded people,” Bhandari says. The spreadsheet currently includes volunteer opportunities and donation requests from national, regional, and local programs — and, importantly, fully remote ways to pitch in if you don’t plan on leaving the house. Here are a few ideas:

Spend some time on the phone

Especially for older people who live alone, increased social isolation can very quickly lead to depression and other health issues. If you’re willing to spend some time shooting the breeze, help out by signing up for a program like the Mon Ami Volunteer Phone Bank, which will match you with a phone buddy.

Lead a virtual college visit

This is the time of year when parents and prospective students typically flood college campuses. If you’re passionate about your alma mater, sign up to talk to high school students.

Call your representatives

The crisis we’re facing is unprecedented, and though its ultimate economic impact is difficult to fathom, we know it could be devastating for many, many people. Call your senators and representatives, and encourage them to vote for measures that will help families, businesses, and communities survive.

Don’t be racist

Get your groceries at your local Asian market. Correct anyone who calls Covid-19 the “Chinese virus.” Shut down anti-Asian harassment when you see it, and be there for your friends who have experienced it.

Stay optimistic

This is a difficult one, and it may be for a while. “Expect this to be terrible: The world has not faced anything remotely like this, and so we are in uncharted territory,” Duffy says. “But think of this as a marathon, not a sprint.” The sooner you get your expectations in order, the sooner you can start to find — and create — small moments of good in this new reality.

Kate is a freelance journalist who’s been published by Popular Science, The New York Times, USA Today, and many more. Read more at bykatemorgan.com.